By George Harvey
Many Green Energy Times readers will recognize the name of Lori Barg, who did an extensive study on Vermont dams that lacked hydroelectric facilities. She concluded that a large number of them could be developed for hydroelectric power without appreciable negative effects on the environment. In 2008, she undertook to incorporate Blue Heron Hydro, LLC, to develop some of these dams. Under her guidance, the company acquired rights to develop hydroelectric facilities on two dams in Windham County, Vermont, from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE).
One of the installations is the 924-kilowatt (kW) Townshend Project, in Townshend, Vermont. The other, only a few miles away, is the 2,196-kW Ball Mountain project in Jamaica, Vermont. Both dams were built for flood control, and they are operated by ACE. They also provide for water recreation and have small beaches.
Having obtained the rights to develop, Blue Heron Hydro set about getting the necessary permits to proceed with installation. Permitting for hydroelectric projects is a notoriously slow, complicated, and expensive process. Multiple agencies at just about all levels of government are involved.
Blue Heron Hydro reached a number of important milestones during its first four years. The Vermont Public Service Board (VPSB) certified the projects. The company entered into power-purchase agreements with Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued 50-year licenses.
A persistent impediment was that ACE still had to issue the actual permits for construction, an entirely separate process from simply granting development rights. In fact, the projects had to get extensions from VPSB more than once as ACE was delayed. The most important problem was that ACE had a backlog in permitting, which slowed development of other hydroelectric facilities all over the country.
In 2012, shortly after it got the licenses from FERC, Blue Heron Hydro was sold to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, based in Morristown, New Jersey. Eagle Creek owns and operates more than three dozen small hydroelectric plants in the Northeast and the Midwest. It has continued to pursue the development process at the Windham County sites through Blue Heron Hydro.
After the long wait, the final permits from ACE were issued early this year. Construction groundbreaking took place on June 12, and both projects should be supplying electricity to the grid by year’s end. Construction is being done by D.A. Collins, of Wilton, New York. The turbine-generator units are built by Obermeyer Hydro, Inc. in Colorado.
The work started with building access roads and control buildings. Old concrete had to be removed and new foundations poured. After installation of the turbines, final work has to be done, and it is expected that power will be flowing to the grid by the end of the year. During the construction period, care has been taken to be sure that activities at the site continued normally. People who enjoy access to the ponds should be able to continue to do so.
The electric energy produced will be sold through the SPEED program to Vermont Utilities. It is estimated that the dams will provide 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity to the grid each year, enough to supply power for about 1,300 average New England homes.